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The Tennis Party
by Tony Severino
Certified Instructor 4A
Professional Tennis Registry

Tony Serverino Photo
Tony Severino

What would a tennis party be without a Swedish Meatball? Well, there are hot dogs, brownies, baked beans...

Wait a minute! We're getting ahead of our story.

My beginner students' eyes widen with curiosity when I mention a tennis party.

"What is a tennis party?" they ask.

And I tell them. It's an opportunity to play tennis, meet other players and maybe enjoy a graduate course in culinary arts.

It's fun, friendship and food wrapped in a single late afternoon outing. Most clubs, private and public, hold them periodically, and beginners are welcome.

There's one happening right now at the Lakeside Tennis Club so let's slip in and watch how it goes. They won't notice us.

There's Fred signing in at the desk, getting a number for him and Jeannie, his wife. That will determine the court and shift they play on, if there are more players than courts available and two shifts are needed.

Jeannie is proceeding into the clubhouse with a pride in her stride and a twinkle in her eyes. You can bet the rent money she's carrying the result of her favorite recipe. Let's go in.

Oh my! There's already Chinese dumplings, lasagna, fried chicken, rolls and butter on the main course table. There's salad ingredients and several dressings on the salad table. Everyone signed up to bring a salad, dessert or main course dish. Beverages are arranged for by the host. Fees, if any, are nominal and often subsidized by the sponsoring facility.

Aunt Hazel and her friend Silvia debated all week on the relative merits of Chicken Marsala versus German potato salad. Finally both brought -- you guessed it -- Swedish meatballs. It figures.

Deserts! Oh my, again! Carrot cake, apple pie, lemon tarts, brownies, chocolate mousse... and not everyone has arrived yet.

Here comes Skinny Liz. She has her copy of "World-class Tennis Technique" with her. She hopes to corner Doctor Joe into explaining accelerating and decelerating muscles. Funny thing is Liz doesn't have any muscles. But she can play the game.

The parade of incoming goodies continues and the sparkling eyes light up the room, but it's time to play tennis.

Play is usually 20 minutes long, always mixed doubles. At the whistle, losers stay and split; winners advance to the next court and split. That way you get to play with many different players. It's social tennis, nice, fun. Beginners are welcome and mentored by the more experienced, especially against people like Boris.

Watch Boris! He likes to drill the lady net players. Sometimes he gets surprised. Like Ginny. Ginny does a Hustle step; back one, tap, forward one and back one, plant. Whap! Fifteen for Ginny!

When playing against Boris, novices are positioned at the baseline for safety sake. It is social tennis, Boris!

Not that tennis party play isn't competitive, it is. It's just not cutthroat like the occasional Boris. Suzie there is a Class A player with an NTRP rating of 4.0. She plays to win, but with finesse. Margie is a 3.5 and lights up the court with her smile throughout the evening. She doesn't take the court to lose either. But for both of them it's fun, fun, fun.

Oops! Here comes Nutty Carole! Quick, turn the other way. She gives all her friends a bone-cracking bear hug. If she sees me, my ribs will still hurt tomorrow. Uh oh! Here she comes.

But Carole is great with beginners, offering suggestions and not over instructing. She instills confidence in them and the bonding between them after the matches tells all.

Melissa and Mindy are the club champions. Lori and Laurie are wannabes. When the party matches are finished, the four square off on center court while the crowd munches and sips and enjoys the competition.

Walter is no doubt a 5.0 or better. He has all the shots, touch, pace, great serve, and knows when to use them all. He is truly an artist on the tennis court. Funny thing, he is so interesting to play against, losing to him 6-0, 6-0 is still fun. When Walter and the girls end up on the same court, it's party time; high level Hit and Giggle, "Can You Top This?"

After a while, everyone is munching and sipping and mingling. The tennis was fun; the camaraderie even better, a perfect place for a beginner to get started. The food, as always, was outstanding. Cleanup is a cooperative effort.

Some foursomes continue. Sven is in one of them. Sven is a jovial guy. He roars hilariously when the receiver has to dodge his rocket serve, still airborne at the baseline. He volleys long, shrugs his shoulders and emits a broad impish grin.

Sven means well. After all, what would a tennis party be without a Swedish meatball?

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